Making a Commitment to Art
”I want to make sure I do things where I’m showing a commitment.”
American artist Pope.L. has crawled through Times Square in a suit, eaten the Wall Street Journal, and painted onions in the colours of the American flag. Meet the artists who, in his own words, “make stuff.” Read more …
“It was my grandmother. It was her idea.” Pope.L.’s grandmother wanted to be an artist and encouraged him to go down that path: “Black people. Poor Black people. It’s just not realistic at that time to think about yourself that way. I mean, I don’t even think it was realistic for her to think about me that way.” Yet, she did, and Pope.L. ended up studying art: “I think I had excellent teachers. You have to have an interesting mix of encouragement, criticism, and good conversation.”
“My material is whatever is necessary to get the job done. I’m very practical that way.” Pope.L.’s practice does not limit itself to one medium. After grad school, he wanted to learn more about theatre and wrote a lot: “One reason why I chose writing and performance was that you could do them very cheaply.” When asked what writing and performance give each other, the answer is clear: “The connection is duration.” Pope.L. is primarily known for his “Crawls”, which are multiple performances in which he crawls across the ground, often in New York, where he lived back in the 1970s. Back then, homelessness was severe in the city and Pope.L. had many close family members who were homeless. “It really touched me that it was happening on such a large and visual scale,” he says and continues: “When you have so many people in your family who are suffering from this thing, maybe you think it’ll happen to you. Like a disease.”
Another iconic performance of Pope.L. is one in which he eats the Wall Street Journal. In the late 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, the newspaper had a campaign that suggested that simply purchasing the paper would provide you with knowledge. So, he thought about what would happen if he ate the paper. “It was one of these commitments I made to the project. If I’m going to work publicly with myself and my body, I want to make sure that I do things where I’m showing a commitment.” Being raised in a Black Christian home, Pope.L. decided to drink milk while eating the paper: “Christianity is into liquids. And they’re into rituals. Doing activities that aren’t always clearly understandable if you don’t know the rules.”
Milk, peanut butter and onions. Pope.L. does not stray away from food in his art. In his show ‘Trinket’ from 2015, he showed hundreds of onions painted in the colours of the American flag. To him, the onion is a complex object that changes over time: “I wanted an object that would perform,” he says and continues: “I think objects are always doing something. It’s always performing.” With the onions, Pope.L. was trying to bring order to something that would eventually fall apart.
Pope.L. (also known as William Pope.L., born in 1955 in Newark, New Jersey) is an American visual artist best known for his work in performance art and interventionist public art. He has also produced art in painting, photography and theatre. He was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial and is a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the Creative Capital Visual Arts Award. Pope.L. was also included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Recent exhibitions, performances, and projects include Between A Figure and A Letter at Schinkel Pavillion, Berlin (2022); Misconceptions at Portikus, Frankfurt (2021); Four Panels at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York (2021); Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration, a trio of complementary exhibitions of his work in New York organised by the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Public Art Fund (2019), Flint Water Project at What Pipeline, Detroit (2017) and Whispering Campaign at documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017).
Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen interviewed Pope.L. in his studio in Chicago in February 2023.
Camera: Sean Hanley
Edited and produced by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023.
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.
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